CultureWatch

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A review of Three Approaches to Abortion. By Peter Kreeft.

Feb 25, 2003

Ignatius Press, 2002.

This is not the first book the well-known and prolific American philosopher has written on the subject of abortion. In 1983 he wrote The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (Inter-Varsity Press). Indeed, abortion featured partially in other works, such as A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews With an Absolutist (Ignatius Press, 1999).

But as Kreeft says, abortion continues to be “the most divisive public issue of our time”. Thus another look at the subject is in order.

This volume, as the title indicates, is divided into three main sections. The first offers a philosophical argument against abortion. The second affirms pro-lifers as to why the debate is important and why they must continue in the battle. The third deals with objections from the pro-abortion side.

Part one of this book makes the philosophical case against abortion. Philosophical argumentation can be quite technical and convoluted, involving multiple steps, seeking the validity of an argument or the soundness of a premise. And Kreeft is a philosopher. But most people are not. Thus it is the task of Kreeft to take relatively complex concepts in logic and philosophy and make them understandable to the common reader. This he does quite well.

Generally any philosophical argument takes some amount of time to elaborate. Kreeft’s 15 points take some 30 pages to unfold. But they are easy to understand and flow easily one to the other. Professional philosophers may demure, saying the argument is too simplistic, makes too many assumptions, or is not carefully nuanced enough. Possibly, yes. But Kreeft does seek to cover all the bases, and he deliberately has chosen not to go down the technical path.

The fifteen steps perhaps can be boiled down to several propositions:
-human rights are based on the condition of human reality (the nature of who we are)
-morality is based on higher law, or metaphysics
-metaphysics, not might, should determine morality
-morality (rights) should extend to all persons, not just some
-if we are unsure if the unborn are persons, then we should not abort them

If that does not seem like much of an argument, read the 30 pages and see how he carefully weaves his case together.

Part two of the book is meant to rally the troops to not give up on this vital issue. It makes clear why the debate is so important, and how it in many ways impacts on so many other crucial issues. Many areas, such as family, society, sexuality, human meaning and purpose, and even human survival, are impacted by the way we think about, and legislate on, abortion. If we give up on defending the rights of the unborn, we have given way a  huge amount of moral ground. To surrender here opens up all kinds of other abuses of human rights.

Part three of the book takes on many of the common objections raised by the pro-abortion camp. It comes in the form of a dialogue between Kreeft and an opponent, a format Kreeft has successfully used in many of his earlier books. Engaging, witty and intellectually cogent, the argument made provides much useful information to the pro-life side.

The book is obviously written with passion. It may also have been written with haste, as some mistakes appear. For example, Kreeft wrongly attributes a quote of Martin Niemoller to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And he wrongly attributes a book title to Jeremy Rifkin when the correct author is Andrew Kimbrell. But aside from such minor issues, this book admirably makes the case for life.

The overall effect of these three sections is a strongly and tightly argued case for the protection of unborn life, and a refutation of many of the pro-abortion positions. While the book is written for people in both camps, one assumes it will mainly be read by like-minded thinkers. However, those on the other side who want to approach the issue with an open mind will find much to think about here, and perhaps even a few may find themselves changing their minds.

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